If it can go wrong, it will go wrong. And boy did it go wrong for Virginia Tech.
The Hokies hosted a desperate Notre Dame side which needs as many wins as possible this week to elevate their tournament hopes. The Irish were playing their fourth game in eight days and that fatigue was evident in the first half. The Hokies pushed the pace, not allowing Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson to settle into the game. Colson, who shot just 1-of-10 from the field in the first half, was visibly gassed with his hands on his hips. Tech dominated the first 20 minutes of the game, heading into halftime with a 34-21 edge.
To that point, Notre Dame shot a measly 25 percent from the floor and 3-of-16 from three. Even at the beginning of the second half, the Hokies were in control. With 15:07 left on the clock, Justin Robinson tossed a dime to Kerry Blackshear who finished a layup to put the Hokies up 47-26. It was a blowout. Virginia Tech was on their way to a third matchup against Duke tomorrow night with a 99.2 percent chance to advance to the next round.
The Hokies then decided to rip off the worst 15 minutes of basketball they have played this season. After allowing just 26 points in the first 35 minutes, Virginia Tech gave up 45 points in the next 15 minutes. The offense stalled, as every player was content to settle for jump shots. The Hokies went 0-of-6 to spark a Notre Dame comeback.
It continued to spiral with a technical foul on Chris Clarke, as he nudged Matt Farrell after the play was over, allowing Notre Dame to cut the lead to 54-50. At that point, the experience of the Irish won the game. The Hokies failed to convert on a shot attempt from 7:30 to just 28 seconds left on the game clock. You can talk about the refereeing all you want, but that kind of offensive ineptitude will contribute to a loss faster than any referee (even if it is TV Teddy).
The Hokies shot just 4-of-16 from three in the second half, barely eclipsing Notre Dame’s awful three-point percentage in the first half. Meanwhile, the Irish went on a 9-0 run consisting only of threes, and eventually took the lead off of this incredible (or lucky or whatever you want to call it) shot by Colson.
It was their first lead of the game, but the Hokies lost this game long before that. Kerry Blackshear, who had a nice game overall, fouled out just a few possessions later and Notre Dame iced the game with free throws.
After faltering late against Miami, a comeback from one of the toughest and best-coached teams in the country was not what the Hokies wanted to see. Virginia Tech lost this game despite having more shot attempts, shooting a better percentage from the field, winning the turnover battle, more points in the paint and more fast break points. However, free throws were the ultimate equalizer, with Notre Dame having 25 free throw attempts to the Hokies’ nine.
Justin Robinson and Justin Bibbs each had 15 points to lead the Hokies. However, both of them were nearly invisible during Tech’s scoring drought. Chris Clarke had another good game against the Irish with 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting, but the technical was certainly ill-advised. Outside of Bibbs and Robinson, the Hokies only shot 3-of-16 from three.
This was a bad loss, but the Hokies are still going to the NCAA tournament. Virginia Tech will travel back to Blacksburg and await their seeding which they will find out Sunday afternoon in Cassell. If the Hokies held onto their 21-point lead, there was hope for a No. 7 seed. With the loss, the Hokies will almost assuredly be a No. 8 or No. 9 seed. Tech will go dancing for their second straight year, but if they don’t win this time around, they would end the season 0-3 - a very weak finish to an otherwise strong season.